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Machshavot HaRav: Reflections from Rabbi Waxman


Payrush LaParashah:

A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion


The portion of Yitro (Exodus 18:1-27) is read this Saturday, February 15th.


18:1 Jethro priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard all that God had done for Moses and for Israel His people, how the Lord had brought Israel out from Egypt. (2) So Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took Zipporah, Moses’s wife, after she had been sent home, (3) and her two sons—of whom one was named Gershom, that is to say, “I have been a stranger in a foreign land”; (4) and the other was named Eliezer, meaning, “The God my father was my help and he delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.” (5) Jethro, Moses’s fatheSr-in-law, brought Moses’ sons and wife to him the wilderness, when he was encamped at the mountain of god. (6) He sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you, with your wife and her two sons.” (7) Moses went out to meet his father-in-law; he bowed low and kissed him; each asked after the other’s welfare, and they went into the tent.

With regard to the first section, the visit of Jethro, all of the traditional commentators (headed up by Rashi, Abraham ibn Ezra, and Nachmanides) emphasize the extraordinary honor that is cast upon the Midianite priest. Scripture places great importance on Jethro’s travels, his words, his support for the faith of Israel and its actions. The text leaves no doubt that it is not dealing with family reunification. The arrival of Moses’ wife and his two sons is treated marginally and hidden compared to the feelings generated within the Israelite leadership on the honored appearance of the elder [Jethro]. There is not found, not even a single word, in the entire parshah [the weekly Torah portion] about Moses’ uniting with his wife and his children, on embracing them, on the joy [of seeing them, again], on the presentation of his sons to Aaron and to other relatives. There is no indication as to whether they remained within the court of their father, or whether they perhaps returned to Midian with their grandfather. It is clear that it didn’t interest the story-teller. All of the light is concentrated on Moses’ encounter with Jethro: “he bowed low and kissed him; each asked after the other’s welfare, and they went into the tent.” (Ely ben Gal, íParshat Yitro: HaTenuvah V’HaChazon [The Portion of Yitro: The Wisdom and The Vision] in Naftali Rothenberg, ed., Potchim Shavuah: Anshay Ruach UTarbut Yisraelim Kotvim Ahl Parshat HaShavuah [Opening the Week: Israeli Intellectuals Writers about the Weekly Reading of the Torah], p. 195. Dr. Ely Ben-Gal was born in 1935 in France to an assimilated Jewish family. During the Holocaust his entire family went into hiding. His grandfather was turned in to the Nazis, and died at Auschwitz. The trauma of the Shoah impacted upon the young Ely. Initially, he became very observant but later joined the leftist “HaShomer HaTsair” Movement. He made Aliyah, renouncing his French citizenship, served in the Israeli army and was among the founders of “Bar-Am” kibbutz in the Galilee.   He completed his Ph.D. degree at the Sorbonne in Paris, under the guidance of Jean-Paul Sartre. Ben-Gal published articles and books about his discipline of “free Judaism”, motivated by free choice of the modern man. Of note is his book Los Martes, Sartre: un Hebrew en Paris 1967-1980. translated from the Hebrew. He was a member of the faculty at both Ben Gurion University as well as Bar Ilan University, and was regarded as a popular and charismatic lecturer and teacher in philosophy, Judaism and sociology. In 1978 Ben-Gal was among the founders of Beit Hatfutsot [The Museum of the Diaspora in Tel Aviv] and served as chief historian of the museum for 20 years. He died in 2015.

Thu, February 20 2020 25 Shevat 5780